Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Doing the Right Thing

The press and others have been very vocal in the last few weeks, working very hard to keep what they seem to see as a very juicy story, in front of the public eye. Some have taken to dredging up decades old accusations in which the alleged perpetrators were gone from the priesthood well before Cardinal George was installed as Archbishop of Chicago. Lest the audience not see that these accusations were intended to besmirch Cardinal George, they included an inane quote saying that action should be taken against him because he is ultimately responsible.

Well, lets look at the facts as they are out in the public:

- Last August, an allegation of sexual abuse by Fr. McCormack was made to the police, not to the Archdiocese

- The Archdiocese was advised by the civil authorities that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against Fr. McCormack, and no charges were filed

- The Archdiocese asked the police to request the parents of the accuser (whose identity was unknown to them) to come forward so an Archdiocesan investigation could begin (they did not)

- Fr. McCormack was told not to be alone with children and was assigned a personal monitor

- The Archdiocese, despite many requests, has still not received either the police interview of last August or any allegation against Fr. McCormack that could be used to begin an investigation

- On January 18 an allegation was made to the Archdiocese by an eighth grade student at St. Agatha’s school and school officials followed Archdiocesan policies, calling the police and notifying the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS)

- On January 20, Fr. McCormack was arrested and charged

- On January 21, after consulting the Review Board, the Vicar General, in Cardinal George's absence, removed Fr. McCormack from ministry

Let's see... Was there a cover-up? No. The police were the first to know about the August incident and decided there was not enough evidence to do anything. In the St. Agatha incident, the Archdiocese reported the accusation immediately to the police. I wonder why we do not see a clamoring for the resignation of the police chief or the Mayor for not locking Fr. McCormack up due to the accusation?

Was there a failure to follow policy? Well, it appears that there may have been. But not in the two cases mentioned above. Apparently, there was an accusation of abuse against Fr. McCormack in 2000 in a diocesan school that did not make it to the Archdiocese office. The mother of the child decided not to make a report so the principle did not report it to police. She did however, send a letter to the Archdiocese which has not been found. Not reporting to the police was a grave mistake which does require investigation and correction. There is also a disagreement between the mother of the August 2005 victim, who is now suing Cardinal George and the Archdiocese, and the diocesan office responsible for handling the reports as to when they talked and what information was provided. The press has presented the mother and her lawyer as saying that Cardinal George is lying about it. The evidence suggests that Cardinal George was not involved in whatever occurred between the mother and the archdiocesan representative.

Was there a failure of the policy itself? That is an open question. The Archdiocese is reviewing the policy and trying to determine if there is anything that could allow removal of a priest in such a situation. They admit that even if they had known about the 2000 accusation, without the family reporting the case to the Archdiocese, under Canon Law no action would have been authorized. But this is moot here because it was not a matter of putting Canon Law before children's welfare. And remember, before the second allegation all the Archdiocese knew was that an accusation was made and the police did not find enough evidence to press charges. Did the Archdiocese ignore the situation? No, they assigned a personal monitor for Fr. McCormack and warned him to have no contact with children. So at this point what we have appears to be posturing for legal action (and other unseemly agendas) than any evidence of negligence or even poor prudential judgment.

So the question then is, if the accusation is that the Archdiocese did not act responsibly then are we saying that any accusation should be taken as sufficient to remove someone from their position without an investigation or would this lack of due process be only reserved for priests? Remember, even with no information the Archdiocese restricted some of Fr. McCormack's freedoms and assigned him a personal monitor.

I understand the skepticism from those jaundiced by loaded press reporting, but based upon this information I honestly do not understand the criticisms from faithful Catholics. Suspicion and skepticism of every bishop because of the failures of a few is unreasonable. This is especially the case with a faithful Shepherd like Cardinal George. This caustic approach would be destructive for any family and the Church is no different.
[comments made prior to Haloscan switchover can still be seen here]